Friday, October 18, 2013

Budapest…you mean, BudaBEST!

Rewind back to August...After there was Vienna, there was Budapest. (trying to catch up on posts!) 

Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary
Budapest has been one of the big surprises on this trip. This was a city on Mike’s list and a city I knew almost nothing about. My love for Budapest was definitely not at first sight. With the remaining hour left on the train from Vienna to Budapest, a young man who appeared to be homeless, sat next to me and nervously wrapped his knuckles on the table in front of both of us. He spoke softly to himself and then would have sudden loud gasps and get up from the seat only to slam his body back down in it, moments later. Being a seasoned subway commuter from Brooklyn to Manhattan twice a day for a few years, I have shared many a seat with men and women just like this, most times worse. Normally I feel empathy rather than fear. But, this one got to me, probably because I felt trapped. If a mentally ill person on the F train is making me nervous, I can remove myself from the situation. But in a train passing between Austria and Hungary with assigned seating and overheated passengers vying for any seat that opens up, I couldn’t just switch cars, but I also couldn’t understand what was making him shake the table in front of us. Despite his appearance, his paranoia seemed legit.  I finally put together that he was anxious about the train conductor. I don't know if the man was homeless, or mentally ill or on drugs, but I do know that he was a train hopper...and he didn't get caught. 

Chillin at the Chain Bridge,
Budapest, Hungary
When we got to Hungary, not the first or last country we would try to navigate via screen shots instead of a SIM card with gps access, we hiked 45 minutes with packs on in the blazing heat to our destination only to find we did not have an actual address. We also didn’t have a phone that worked in Europe and the one payphone we found had the wires cut and I am certain contained the flesh-eating bacteria on its handle. The heat, the hunger, the exhaustion, the intense end to a four hour train ride, all seemed to hit us at once and it happened: Mike and I turned on each other. 

We went into bakeries, restaurants, asked security guards and people who seemed like locals, and no one could tell us anymore about the strange ABSENT address on our itinerary. The zip codes in Budapest our four numbers, while the addresses are two numbers. We had a zip code but no address, a screen shot but no gps, each other but no more fucking patience. I think it was right after we tried to make a collect call on a haphazard payphone that we exploded into the “YOUs” speak. You did this! You didn’t do this! (You know this fight. Every couple does.) An older man with a red bulbous nose and a long white ponytail, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and a fedora, passed by and Mike broke away from our argument to ask him for help. His name was Peter, like the Apostle, and at that moment, he was our savior, too. 

View of Pest from Buda
He looked at the phone number we had and whipped out his cell phone. He spoke to our airbnb host in Hungarian and walked us directly across the street. A young kid was waiting for us and had missed us walking up and down the street the last hour. Peter told us he just became a grandfather that day. He asked me if I had any single girlfriends that want to visit Hungary and then he shook our hands and left. We entered our Budapest home and went to our separate corners. We showered in silence, drank water, and finally broke the ice…which led to the giggles…which led to a fresh start. The stay in Budapest could only go up from there, and it did. 
Holocaust Memorial, Budapest

We had seen enough castles and cathedrals by the time we hit Budapest, that we felt no obligation to do anything, which allowed us to slip into the rhythm of the city. We found a great little spot along the river just beneath the Chain Bridge where we took in the view of the Castle. We explored our neighborhood and found the coolest bar I’ve ever been into. We were staying in the old Jewish quarter of Budapest that was abandoned for years after the war until a few years ago, when artists started inhabiting the buildings and turning ruins into bars and a depressed neighborhood into art. The bars in Budapest are not like the bars anywhere else. They aren't so much watering holes as they are a creative and inspired place to meet up with friends and enjoy the artistic space. There is natural sunlight, open roofs, circles of music, funky decorating with old cars for seats and skis as hardwood floors. The neighborhood had wounds but it was full of life and the people were among some of the friendliest in Eastern Europe. We went to the Synagogue and walked outside in the gardens where there is a holocaust memorial. Over 2,000 bodies were buried in a plot of land no bigger than a backyard in an American suburban home. The names, the stones, the roses…there was a profound sadness that radiates when walking through the memorial. Whereas the memorial in Berlin felt fearful, suffocating and imposing, the one in Hungary felt haunting. 

St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest, Hungary
We visited St. Stephen’s Basilica and walked to Buda castle but skipped the tour inside. At night, we stumbled upon a live band performing underneath the Chain Bridge. We took our shoes off and swung our legs over the edge of the wall of the river and enjoyed the view. The next day we spent hours at the thermal baths and took turns shuffling between the pools, the saunas, the outdoor pool, and the thermal pools inside again until we felt relaxed and ready four our 24 hours of travel ahead of us. We picked up our bags and took a subway, a bus, a shuttle, two planes, the craziest bus ride ever, a ferry, and a subway before we landed in Istanbul the next day. But Budapest remains one of the highlights. 
Us, Budapest

1 comment:

Carmen said...

i love these pics and this post! was waiting to hear about a fight! way to keep it real. love you two